What the hell is up with this Essential device?

Essential CEO Andy Rubin has been pretty silent over the past year for, well, lots of reasons — both business and otherwise. The company has struggled to sell devices, reportedly shipping only 88,000 handsets in its first year. On a far more serious note, Rubin has been plagued by reports of inappropriate behavior during his time at Google. A bombshell report from The New York Times highlighted sexual misconduct accusations prior to his receiving a $90 million exit package from the company. 

The former Google executive last used Twitter to state that the story “contains numerous inaccuracies about my employment at Google.” Now, a year later, he’s back on the platform touting a new device. It could be the next Essential handset, or it could be something else entirely.

It’s not the shiny “GEM Colorshift material” on the back that’s caught viewers’ eyes, as much as the “new UI for radically different formfactor.” The closet thing I can thing to compare the long, skinny handset to is the new Galaxy Fold when closed. Of course, this has the decided advantage of a full length screen.

The UI appears to be a collection of different widgets, each sporting different apps: weather, maps, calendar and Uber on one, with a full length map on the other. It’s certainly different and even more of a departure from the original Essential handset, which had very little of the industry revolutionizing impact the company was initially hoping for.

A spokesperson for the company confirmed that the new device is in “early testing” in the real world, which is probably why Rubin opted to get out in front of leaks by showing the half-phone on his own terms, rather than grainy leaks. Here’s the official statement from Essential:

We’ve been working on a new device that’s now in early testing with our team outside the lab. We look forward to sharing more in the near future.

There are, of course, way more questions than answers right now, like whether the company is abandoning the first gen’s modular attachment system. Also, is the lack of cellular information at top a sign? Is this why the company acquired CloudMagic? Can one say this is truly “essential”?

At the very least, the existence of such a device does seem to contradict earlier rumors about Rubin canceling the device and attempting to sell the company. Maybe. If I had to venture a guess, I’d say Essential is courting a similar secondary handset market as Palm — though that, too, didn’t exactly set the smartphone world ablaze.

More soon, I suppose.

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